Oh the weather outside is frightful,
And the food is so delightful,
And since we’ve got no abs to show,
Let the food Flow! Let the training Go! Look my belt buckles about to Blow!
I love the holidays, the food, the drink, the parties…I love it all.
However, I also love staying lean, keeping fit, and work for that year round. So when this time of year comes round I try to combat my love for food and drink as best I can. So that I don’t let it take over, I can keep my abs somewhat, still enjoy myself, but not blow my hard work.
It’s Christmas Chill The F Out
For many this time of year can filled with feelings of anxiety.
They just cannot see how they’re going to overcome the onslaught of delicious foods.
I was one of those people, I’d get majorly stressed, and end up letting it all get out of control. I didn’t know of any other way but to just take the hit, but I’d do everything I could to mitigate it. Days before nights out and Christmas day I would restrict all my carbs and do hours of extra cardio. After nights out drinking I would wake up early and go for a ‘guilt run’ in an attempt to burn off all the booze I had consumed. I didn’t trust myself around this sort of food.
As you can imagine this freaking sucked, I ended up hating the gym because it sucked my performance dry and I felt extremely tired constantly. My body actually looked worse, and my hunger was through the roof. So I’d end up over-eating on crap, because it was so freely available and I felt like my body was telling me I needed it. I didn’t need it, I was treating my body like crap, and crap in equals crap out.
[bctt tweet=”Crap In = Crap Out”]
Christmas which is meant to be a time to enjoy with family and friends, but for me it became a time I’d become so food focussed it would consume me. I’d not enjoy this time of year at all.
However, over the last few years my mindset has shifted, I no longer looked at food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and I didn’t let it control me. I knew I could eat what I wanted and be OK, so long as I practiced moderation. I had the choice to overeat, I also had the choice to eat enough, I stopped blaming the time of year and took ownership over my actions.
If I messed up my diet, ate too much one day, it was a choice I’d made. I couldn’t blame the food, the time of year, or the people round me. It was my choice. The more ownership you take, the better able you are to use self-control. I talked a lot about this in the fat loss mindset.
So if this time of year fills you with feelings of anxiety, if it scares you, likely there is a deeper issue. We all need to be able to handle days away from our ‘ideal diet’, what you might think is going to be a major set-back really won’t be. You should be able to relax about going slightly off plan, don’t let your diet become an obsession, it is not a healthy place to be.
I’m going to give you some ways you really can relax, and stay on track.
So you can eat, drink and be merry like me.
Be Mindful at Christmas
At the other end of the scale you have those people who don’t even think about what they put in their mouths. Again extremes are never the answer, the middle ground aint sexy, but it is where the best decisions are made. In this case people often eat to cope with emotions, Christmas is often a busy time; you have to buy presents, money is tight, family are coming over, you’re busy at work, but you have nights out, so you don’t get enough sleep…stressful!
So maybe you cope with this stress by treating yourself to a big bowl of ice cream, which of course isn’t an ideal thing to have, especially multiple times a week. Another reason people may fall into an unconscious eating trap is again due to having limited time, you have so much going on, too many things to do. So your eating goes to shit, you eat whatever’s going, you work at your desk and eat, read and eat, you never concentrate on what you’re eating. You didn’t have time to make dinner so you grabbed a takeaway, it’ll do. Because you’re stressed and busy you don’t eat until you’re ravenous, and this leads to poor choices.
[bctt tweet=”You don’t eat until you’re ravenous, and this leads to poor choices. “]
The problem is mindless eating as you can imagine leads to chronic overeating, excess calories, and therefore fat gain. You eat but don’t really know it, you don’t zone in on the meal you’re having, and this easily leads to excess.
So although it is hard this time of year, don’t use food to escape and do try to think about what you’re eating. If you’re following a macro managed flexible diet like me and my clients you’re all good, because you are by default mindful and I have some further strategies for you next.
However, I have a client who works in retail and this time of year is manic, loads of meetings, overtime, getting ready for the Christmas rush. Tom was really struggling with his nutrition, and in the past had gained lots of weight this time of year. There was not enough time to prep food beforehand, and often he would end up eating at his desk, and snacking on foods around him (which were as you can imagine not the best).
So we had to combat this somehow:
- Simple Nutrition: we did not track calories or macronutrients, the only aim was to eat lean protein sources and lots of fruit and vegetables. He would have protein powder, low-fat greek yoghurt, protein bars, beef jerky and lots of fruit at his desk for him to eat. When he went to the canteen he skipped the carbs and just focussed on cuts of meat and loads of vegetables. He was banned from eating at his desk, and encouraged to take a walk each day for 15 minutes.
This short-term simplification allowed Tom to keep the fat off, and also decreased stress at this time. The reason this worked is because the focus on protein and fruit and vegetables kept Tom full. Protein is the most filling macronutrient and fruit and vegetables are high in fibre, low in calories and this powerful combo kept Tom from over eating. Plus by taking time away from his desk, he reduced his stress and also enjoyed his food more. Snacks were not restricted, he could have them if he really wanted, and on occasion Tom enjoyed a mince-pie, but this wasn’t in an attempt to fill him up, it was eaten to be enjoyed. This strategy was much more successful as Tom would have devoured multiple calorie dense mince pies to starve off hunger in the past.
So try to be mindful of what you’re eating over Christmas, and don’t use food to relieve stress, give yourself a break, walks are fantastic, even if it is only 10 minutes.
Be Flexible at Christmas
I’m not going to bore you and go over flexible dieting again, as I have done it thoroughly here. However, in short that means you have a diet, but if you mess up one time, you shrug it off like it was nothing and hop back on it when you can. This mindset is vital this time of year, because there is going to be treats in the office, your mum is going to send you goodies you could really do without and the supermarkets are stocked full of tasty treats that are hard to say no to.
So by letting yourself be a little flexible, and not stressing over having a mince-pie Sarah from the office made especially for you, you’ll enjoy this time more and not feel so hard done by. Plus you won’t piss off Sarah. You could make this approach even more successful by attaching some reigns to it, to guide it along the right path.
This is what I call a macro guided flexible diet, it is what I use, my clients for the most part use and I think you’d be well served using it too. Again in short this follows a similar principle to the flexible diet, apart from you have macronutrients to think about. You will have a protein, fat and carb target for the day and select foods so you get pretty close to these numbers. So you know you’re providing your body with the nutrition it needs for the day.
Essentially this is like a macronutrient budget, and so you can decide to spend some of your macros on Sarah’s mince-pie if you wish. This is great because so long as you stick in and around these numbers you will stay in the shape you want.
Now this concept can be taken even further, yup we can flex this diet even more if we need to, starting with least to most flexible:
- Use Intermittent Fasting
Yup, don’t eat. Well I mean maybe skip breakfast, so then you have a smaller eating window. This can and has worked really well for people, some find it really helps keep their hunger under control. So rather than splitting 2500 calories between three meals you split it between two, making those two meals much larger. This can be very handy when going for meals or nights out, and I and many of my clients have used it with great success in the past.
- Protein & Calorie Track
It is as it sounds, you just make sure you get in enough protein and calories for the day. Fat and carbs then land where they may, this is really handy if you’re drinking alcohol, or if you’re eating out. Protein is arguably the most important macro to get right when trying to grow or maintain muscle, hence why it is put first. So if usually you aim for 2100 to 2200 calories with 160 to 180g protein, 250 to 270g carbs and 50 to 60g of fat, you just focus on landing between 160 to 180g protein and 2100 to 2200 calories.
- Weekly Average
With this approach your calories and individual macros could be very varied day-to-day. Say one day you know you have a big party, so you under eat the days prior, so you effectively saved some of your budget to spend another day. So by the end of the week, when you average everything out you’re in your macro guidelines. Done for a short period of time this wouldn’t be an issue at all.
- Calorie Track
Maybe you’re relatively new to trying to track your macros or the foods you’re eating are just too hard to bother guestimating. Or maybe you just really want a break, but still want to keep yourself somewhat on track. This is when calorie counting comes in, because calories are king when it comes to changing our body composition. If you can keep them under control, you can keep ripped.
The more flexible you get the more freedom you can potentially have to eat the foods you want. If you like you can eat treats all day so long as you keep them in your calories. That’s right you could just have pancakes for breakfast, chocolates for lunch and then Christmas dinner, but the key is you keep your calories in check. You won’t want to keep that sort of eating up for too long, trust me you’ll be craving your fruit and veggies in no time.
Done for short periods of time this is totally OK, because there is still an element of control. What you must realise is you cannot eat your usual diet and then stack these extra holiday goodies on top and expect not to gain weight. You can however have a bit of both or however much you want of both and be OK, so long as you keep the calories in check.
Do this for any length of time and you will soon find yourself craving those ‘healthier’ foods, and you will become more balanced soon enough. We’ve all been there, on holiday, eating great food, what’s the one thing we all crave once home? Some greens, a salad, some fruit. Sometimes to get to moderation you need to experience the extreme.
[bctt tweet=”Sometimes to get to moderation you need to experience the extreme.”]
Flexible dieting is ridiculously effective, it teaches people correct portion control, healthy habits and allows them to move away from thinking about their nutrition as a diet, and more like a lifestyle. Sure sometimes it flexes more or less, but the key is you are in control and make educated decisions for yourself. If you need help setting up a macronutrient guided flexible diet look here.
Be Selective at Christmas
Now there is going to be loads of parties, meals out, drinks, socials etc. The opportunity to drink yourself into oblivion and eat yourself into a coma will present itself more this time of year than any other. My advice is to be selective.
I don’t mean screw your mates over or miss out on office parties, I mean choose which ones you’re gonna go all out on and which you will hold back. Because, lets face it, if there is free food and drink on offer, you’re not exactly going to practice moderation. So choose which nights you’re going to dial it back, and which you’re going to make the most of. Now I am not condoning binge drinking or eating, but I am condoning having a freaking good time.
We have however all been there when we have partied too hard, and our diet and training has suffered big time, which if you’re like me, sucks big time. So be selective, say you have 10 nights out, select 5 you’re going to let your hair down and 5 you’re gonna practice good ol’ moderation.
Eat This Not That at Christmas
Right so you’re not one of those people who currently follow a macro guided flexible diet or you just want a full break, so you just need some quick holiday hacks to avoid unwanted weight gain. There are certainly some easy ways you can reduce your calorie consumption over the Christmas period.
I’m going to share some easy swaps you can make, I by no means want you to do all or any of these, they are just suggestions, take em or leave em because it’s your choice remember.
Around 100 to 200 calories saved per serving:
- Swap beer/wine for a clear spirit with a sugar-free mixer (Gin & Slim my go to).
- Swap out roast potatoes for boiled potatoes.
- Swap snacking on nuts and opt for crudités.
- Swap the brown turkey meat for white breast meat.
- Swap the turkey skin for no skin.
- Swap streaky bacon for lean back bacon.
- Swap the butter on your veg for salt and pepper.
- Swap traditional gravy made with turkey fat for vegetarian gravy made with granules.
- Swap cream for low-fat greek yoghurt.
- Swap mince pies for fruit salad.
Hopefully if you have learnt anything I am not saying you should always opt for these lower calorie swaps. But, what I am saying is practice some moderation, don’t go for the higher calorie option all the time, but if you fancy a pint of beer then bloody have it, enjoy it, just be sure to account for it.
Of course at this time of year the bombardment of this sort of delicious grub is constant, so there are some clever things you can practice:
Calories always Count
Christmas is not about Calories
Christmas, weddings, parties, birthdays, social gatherings, these sort of events and celebrations are not about the food you’re eating, they’re about the people you are with. If these events fill you with fear or anxiety then the way you’re eating isn’t sustainable, and if it isn’t sustainable it will not bring about the results you want.
[bctt tweet=”The only diet that will provide success is on you can follow for the long-term”]
The only diet that will provide success is on you can follow for the long-term, one that becomes a lifestyle, that allows you to enjoy all foods. This way of eating requires you to have a sense of freedom but also control, this combination is essential. Freedom of choice and with that the ability to practice moderation and self-control. So you can enjoy Christmas for what it is; time with family and friends, you can celebrate however you like, knowing you have the freedom to practice as much control as you need or want.
Remember Alan Aragon’s 10 Essential Characteristics of a Healthy Diet:
- Respects personal taste preferences
- Supports physical and mental performance goals
- Covers macro and micronutrient needs
- No unnecessary food restrictions
- Respects medical intolerance/allergies
- Socially Acceptable
- Compatible with personal ideologies
- Sustainable in the long-term
Now if you are following a macro guided flexible diet and you use the advise I planned out above there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to smack all 10 of these on the head. Some might fall by the way side in the short-term, but it is the long-term trend that we care about.
For example, you select one night to let your hair down, and consequently suffer a pretty heavy hangover the next, that screws up your training and therefore you break number 2 ‘supports physical and mental performance goals’ but only in the short-term, because after a day of nursing that hangover, you’re back at it. The short-term dip in performance doesn’t impact your overall performance.
Again on some days (like Christmas) you might end up going over your macronutrient needs, but this is a short-term blip, and you understand that if you meet your macronutrient needs the majority of the time you’ll see great results. The short-term break of diet doesn’t impact your overall diet.
Now imagine if you restricted yourself, you didn’t party on the lead up to Christmas, you said no to meals out, so you could stick to your diet. Does this really fulfil your preferences? Is it really socially acceptable? Is this a necessary restriction? The answer is probably no to all three, and therefore it isn’t sustainable in the long-term either, and that is what counts most.
So we know calories always count, we’re not ignorant to that fact. If we over eat, we over eat, but we know we’ve done it and can do as much or little about it as we please. At Christmas I don’t encourage people to restrict themselves too much, enough to stay on track but not so much you end up dampening the experience.
Enjoy Christmas for what it is; time to hang with friends and family.
That’s what counts.